The heart of the Universal Exhibition is the Central Garden; from this point, which is no more than half the size of the Palais-Royal garden, radiate the great arteries which, under the name of streets, divide and cross the whole Palace, ending up at the outer marquee under the great entrance doors.
It is here that visitors, whether they have come from England or France, China or Japan, Italy or Spain, Switzerland or the United States, find themselves gathered as if in a meeting place. This garden is a kind of common ground, an international caravanserai where everyone comes to rest after a more or less capricious journey through the exhibiting regions.
The most diverse groups, the most varied types, are crowded in. The foreigners, after having gone through the galleries where the products of their respective nations are displayed, seeing themselves at the end of their journey and in a place which seems to invite them to rest, go and sit on the first seats they meet at the end of the galleries they have just left, and thus form, without knowing it, a new, attractive, unexpected exhibition.
Walk through the central Garden at about four or five o'clock, when the young visitors are beginning to feel tired; walk through the promenoir which surrounds the Garden, and you will see under the very signs which the Imperial Commission has had placed at the centre of each Gallery, you will see an exhibition, I repeat, which is unforeseen but extremely pleasant.
Italy indicates the sign under which you see this group of young women with abundant hair as black as ebony, which brings out the matt whiteness of a face with a graceful oval. They sit there nonchalantly, half-silent, exchanging only a few slow, soft words and a few quick, sharp glances between them. - England!" says a sign that is not contradicted by the young men and women seated below, those adorned with large blond sideburns, armed with a spyglass in a saltire, a formidable guide and the inevitable umbrella; those who are white, rosy, slim with a gentle, serious air. Further on you recognize, without reading the sign, the brunettes senoras whose inexhaustible chatter strikes your attention, they attract your gaze only by their brown complexion, their white teeth, and their large lively eyes; besides, neither short skirt, nor mantilla, not even a fan, the Spanish women care little for the local colour and follow the fashions of Paris, just like our ladies of the Chaussée-d'Antin They are tall, slender, their complexion has the brilliance of that of Italian women, their black eyes possess as much vivacity, as much passion, and their beautiful hair is as blond as gold, and not dull like that of sentimental German women.
This is the exhibition which we are given to see under the promenorium of the Central Garden, an exhibition which is attractive as much as it is instructive; for as well as giving a very pleasant pleasure to the eyes, it makes it possible to make a study there of the comparative human races.
When the various groups who have come under the peristyle to sit down and take a few moments' rest leave their seats, they give a more or less attentive glance at the various works exhibited under the marquee.
Some of these works seemed worthy of attention, so readers of the Universal Exhibition will allow me to hold them back for a few moments and to point out to them what this part of the Palace contains that is most remarkable.
Let us take the peristyle in front of the great entrance, in the axis of the Pont d'Iéna, and go through it from right to left.
The white marble statue that stands precisely opposite the main entrance is that of the Empress Josephine, by M. Vidal-Dubray. It is a reproduction of the statue recently erected on one of the boulevards that radiate around the Place de l'Étoile. The attitude, both noble and graceful, of the popular empress is remarkable.
A few steps from this statue, on the walls of the peristyle, here is a curious singularity; it is a painting one metre wide and nearly two metres high, which at first sight has all the appearances of a beautiful engraving, it has the velvety quality, the fade, the finish, all the delicacies of the pencil appear to be reproduced by a skilful burin. It represents a woman with her hand resting on a book, and next to her are the various attributes of justice, commerce, law, and peace; it is an allegory relating to the installation of the government of Uruguay, for this painting comes from Uruguay, and is the work of Mr. Pedro Nin y Gonzalès, a citizen of that distant republic. Now, what is Mr. Pedro Nin y Gonzalès? No doubt a teacher of writing, and his painting is nothing but a pen-and-ink drawing, the dress of the allegorical figure being entirely made up of wonderful freehand paraphrases. This work, it can be said without flattery, is perfectly painted; it cost, moreover, two years of work to its author?
Further on we find various marbles from Italy, some ceramic busts from the same country, among which we will mention that of King Victor-Emmanuel. Various Italian photographs are attached to the walls.
Continuing our walk under the peristyle, we come across various reproductions of ornaments taken from Greek manuscripts from the tenth to the fifteenth century. They form part of the History of Work gallery, which the learned M. du Sommerard is to report on at the Universal Exhibition of 1807.
We then notice, not far from there, in the Danish section, a marble group offered by the great Danish owners to Her Highness the Princess of Wales, on the occasion of her marriage and as a wedding present. This group represents the formation of Eve. The piece is not without its attractions, although it is very simple.
Adam is awakening from sleep, and his eyes are charmed by the sight of the companion God has just given him. Eve, graceful and naive, smiles at her husband.
Here again, in the same section, is an Adam and Eve, but after their fault. The sculptor has succeeded in rendering the confusion with which the two sinners are covered after having transgressed the orders of the Creator. Their looks, their attitude, their bowed heads, the fear in Eve's face, render the situation admirably. It seems that people less advanced than we are in civilisation are better able to reproduce these simple and primitive scenes than our sculptors, who easily fall into theatrical emphasis and exaggeration. Only the simple feel the simplicity.
From Denmark we pass immediately to Greece, from the North to the South, a thousand leagues without transition! Eve is next to Achilles.
Achilles' anger is the subject of this block of Paros marble. Achilles' anger is well rendered. He is seated on a rock, his weapons are unfortunately laid down beside him with too much order and care. It seems to me that Achilles should have thrown his weapons to the ground instead of arranging them symmetrically; but this criticism of detail does not prevent me from praising the whole piece. Achilles is clutching one of his knees with one hand and striking it angrily with the other. His beautiful face is darkened by fury. We see that ancient Greece, which is no longer used in France to enliven the public of the Variétés, still serves as a model and subject of study for the artists of modern Greece.
After having cast our eyes on various projects of Spanish architects and on a large and beautiful Christ of the artistic institute of M. Joseph Mayer in Munich, we arrive at last at the most interesting part of our walk, at this vast archaeological exhibition made by the Ministry of State, at this exhibition of plans, drawings, views, sections, etc.... of a great number of historical monuments of France.
This exhibition occupies the entire eastern wall of the peristyle, but it is far from complete.
It is well known that archaeological science, this eminently interesting science, is, so to speak, a completely new creation.
Before the revolution of 1789, one could even go further back and say that before the Romantic School and Victor Hugo's beautiful novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, there was little concern for French historical monuments.
Apart from a few palaces, a few castles and certain churches, which imposed themselves on the care of the State by their importance or their destination, the specimens of our national architecture were neglected, abandoned and everywhere falling into ruin, when they were not the object of deplorable mutilations, under the pretext of restoration.
Each century treated the monuments of past centuries with profound contempt and as ridiculous remnants of outdated fashions or customs. In most cases, the pickaxe did justice to the debris that time had spared; in other cases, the architect, without taking into account the work of his predecessors, or even to appear more skilful than they were, added a new style on top of theirs, without harmony with the previous one. The result was bizarre inconsistencies, dreadful contrasts from the artistic point of view, and very regrettable mutilations from the historical point of view.
Through these mutilations we have, in many provinces, lost the trace of French customs. In the Middle Ages, through restorations and additions out of style, we inherited monuments, bastards in many parts, dreadful on the whole. This is how our cathedrals, particularly as they passed through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, underwent considerable changes. In those two great centuries, when Fénelon thought our Gothic architecture barbaric, when Voltaire smiled with contempt at Notre-Dame and raved about the portal of Saint-Gervais, our architects treated our churches and castles with the same disdain; they placed their heavy Greek colonnades over the light flourishes and slender columns of the thirteenth century. The Pompadour style reigned under the ogival vaults and impudently flaunted itself in front of the Gothic wonders.
This is how our national monuments were treated, until the day Victor Hugo awakened in our minds a taste for the Middle Ages and their marvellous splendours.
But what he could only say, another could do. Victor Hugo brought the Middle Ages back to life before our imaginations, another great spirit brought it back to life before our eyes, and that great spirit was the scholar M. Viollet-le-Duc. Mr. Viollet-le-Duc, who was also to inscribe his name on the Notre-Dame sung by the poet and restore it to its original glory.
To M. Viollet-le-Duc belongs the honour of having brought our monuments out of their ruins, there is no province in France that this ingenious scholar has not travelled through and of which he has not reproduced the main buildings.
Those which lay in ruins, he has rehabilitated, reconstructed; one day or other, they will rise from the rubble and will be raised as our forefathers saw them, like the ancient manor of Pieriefonds which is reborn from its debris; those: Those which had been degraded by ineptitude and ignorance are freed from the ornaments which disfigured them and restored to their original appearance; thus the Sainte-Chapelle, Notre-Dame de Paris; those which remained unfinished are completed with care and in the same style in which the architect conceived them.
The State has taken under its direct protection all the monuments in our provinces, and from now on they will live surrounded by care, religiously maintained and intelligently restored.
The drawings and plans exhibited on the eastern wall of the Central Garden are therefore related to historical monuments, that is to say to the most precious specimens of our national architecture. One can, by going through this series of works, make an interesting study of the useful art par excellence and which comprises, I believe, the most variety.
Among the drawings and plans exhibited, one will notice especially the City of Carcassonne, which is currently being restored by M. Viollet-le-Duc, and which has been the subject of a number of exhibitions. Viollet-le-Duc, and which should provide us with a complete picture of military architecture during the Middle Ages; Pierre l'on ris, which is nearing completion and which will give the best idea of what the military manors of the great vassals of the crown were like; the town hall of Orléans, a graceful type of civil architecture under Louis XIII; the Palace of the Popes in the city of Avignon, a majestic edifice and an imposing fortress; Mont-Saint-Michel, with its curious houses and its remarkable church; and, of course, the town hall in the city of Paris. the Sainte-Chapelle, Notre-Dame d'Etampes, one of our oldest churches; Saint-Denis, the ancient church of the abbey of that name, with its imposing ne's; Notre-Dame de Laon, one of our most beautiful cathedrals; the church of Beaune, Saint-Sernin de Toulouse, restored by M. Viollet-le-Duc, the most important church in France, and the most important one in the world. Viollet-le-Duc, the most beautiful specimen of our Romanesque architecture; the beautiful cloister of Fontenay (Cote-d'Or), the Pont du Gard, the château of Blois, the church of Vézelay, the Museum of Cluny, in which M. du Sommerard has brought together so many precious objects, so many relics of the Middle Ages; finally, a very large number of private dwellings whose artistic value has led to their being classified among the monuments of the State.
We would have liked to place before the eyes of our readers a large number of these specimens; but we have had to limit ourselves to reproducing here the Palais des Papes, the restoration of which has already begun; the Hôtel de Cluny, the importance of which is well known and which gives a perfect idea of a fifteenth-century hotel; we also give two gables of the church of Vézelay, gables of remarkable delicacy and taste; finally, two houses of a very different character. One belongs to the North, to this city of Rouen which preserves such graceful remains of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; the other to the South, which kept for so long in its customs and in its architecture traces of Roman civilisation: it is a house of the thirteenth century preserved in Saint-Antonin and classified among the historic monuments. For the other monuments, we can only refer our readers to the magnificent works published by Mr. A. Morel's architectural bookshop, works to which the international jury has just awarded a gold medal.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée